Background: The Method of Levels (MOL) is a transdiagnostic cognitive therapy that promotes contentment, wellbeing, and goal achievement through the resolution of internal conflicts underlying psychological distress. MOL, based on Perceptual Control Theory (PCT), was developed in routine clinical practice and has been used effectively across different health services by different practitioners. Access to MOL-style questions through a smartphone app could, potentially, help both the general public maintain robust mental health, and also be a useful adjunct to therapy for clinical populations. The app is called MindSurf because of its focus on helping people explore their thinking. Prior to developing the app and using it with different populations it was necessary to determine whether such an idea would be usable for and acceptable to potential app users. Therefore, a pilot study was conducted with a non-clinical sample to assess the usability and acceptability of the app including monitoring whether the questions delivered in this way were associated with any adverse events.
Methods: A pilot study using quantitative as well as qualitative methods and incorporating a repeated measures, A-B design was conducted.
Results: The 23 participants were healthy adult volunteers who were all either undergraduate students, postgraduate students, or staff of the University of Manchester. They received MOL-style questions on their mobile phones over a 1-week period. Qualitative results were encouraging and indicated that the format and style of questioning were acceptable to participants and did not lead to increased worry or concern. A one-way, repeated measures ANOVA indicated that there was a nonsignificant decrease in scores on the 21-item Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale (DASS21) over a 2week period.
Discussion: The results of the pilot study justified development of MindSurf and further testing once it is available for use. A power analysis indicated that the pilot study was underpowered to detect significant effects but provided important information regarding the appropriate sample size for future research. The pilot study also indicated that future research should investigate the effects of receiving more than three questions per day.
Conclusion: Results of the pilot study indicate that MindSurf will be a usable and acceptable app. Its benefits should be further explored through longer studies with larger sample of both the general population as well as clinical populations.